Sunday, April 30, 2006

Steps Into The New Imperium

We have heard complaints that President George W. Bush is acting as if he has an “imperial presidency,” of course we cannot forget his remark about how a “dictatorship could be good,” if he were the dictator, and some have pointed to his statements on how his legal staff’s interpretations of the United States Constitution trumps the plain language of what the Congress written into a bill (two of the most publicized are the ban on torture and congressional oversight of the PATRIOT Act).

What is not so well-known to the public is to just what extent he has laid the groundwork for this imperium, by way of the sheer multitude of “signing statements” filed on bills he has signed – over 750.

Because GW has vetoed no bills, he has allowed for no clarification from the Congress on points of the legislation he had issue with.  According to a copyrighted article in the Boston Globe, even though many Bush apologists try to say that the signing statements are just window dressing and have no real legal weight, those statements are also the template that is used by the various federal agencies, that, as part of the executive branch, take direction on how to implement the laws that the Congress passes.

Some, such as the declaration that the President can direct the armed forces to ignore the ban on torture, have some remote “justification” on national security grounds, but how to explain the prohibition imposed on military lawyers that they (the lawyers) cannot advise their commanders on what constitutes “torture” independently of what the administration has declared, which places those commanders at-risk for possible future charges.  Also hard to justify are the prohibition against reports, to the Congress, by the Congressionally-mandated post of an independent Inspector-General (IG) for occupied Iraq, unless the executive branch permits a specific report, this prohibition extends even Congressional directive that the Congress shall be informed if any U.S. official refuses to cooperate with the IG.  Bush has also directed, in that signing statement, that the U.S. military, and other instrumentalities of the executive branch, can reserve for themselves the sole investigative functions of any crime that the Pentagon wants to investigate for itself, rather than the IG.

As noted above, by making these signing statements Bush is reserving for the Executive branch the setting of policy that may be directly contradicted by the letter and spirit of the actual legislation, which is usurping the power of the legislative branch to decide the content and sense of law, and is asserting a right to refuse congressional oversight.

Indeed, because many of Bush’s signing statements have language to the effect that the administration, through the powers of the Executive, can be the arbiter of what is the “sense” of the Constitution in regards to law, rather than the Judicial branch, by declaring that the regulations and implementation of a law shall be subject to the Executive’s view of what is a “manner consistent with the Constitution.”  In some cases the signing statements declare that the law will be implemented (or provisions ignored) even though the letter and sense of the law plainly is that mandated by Supreme Court decisions.

Also troubling is the sheer volume of the signing statements. During the elder Bush presidency, the President appended 232 signing statements over 4 years, Bill Clinton appended 140 during his 8 years, and, since the start of his time in office, G.W. Bush has signed at least 750.  The accompanying graphic shows the relative absolute count and the average “per year” count.  

The Globe article (which should be read in its entirety) has detailed the content of some of these signing statements:

March 9, [2006]: Justice Department officials must give reports to Congress by certain dates on how the FBI is using the USA Patriot Act to search homes and secretly seize papers.
Bush's signing statement: The president can order Justice Department officials to withhold any information from Congress if he decides it could impair national security or executive branch operations.

Dec. 30, 2005: US interrogators cannot torture prisoners or otherwise subject them to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.
Bush's signing statement: the president, as commander in chief, can waive the torture ban if he decides that harsh interrogation techniques will assist in preventing terrorist attacks.

Dec. 30: When requested, scientific information ''prepared by government researchers and scientists shall be transmitted [to Congress] uncensored and without delay."
Bush's signing statement: The president can tell researchers to withhold any information from Congress if he decides its disclosure could impair foreign relations, national security, or the workings of the executive branch.

Aug. 8: The Department of Energy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and its contractors may not fire or otherwise punish an employee whistle-blower who tells Congress about possible wrongdoing.
Bush's signing statement: The president or his appointees will determine whether employees of the Department of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission can give information to Congress.

Dec. 23, 2004: Forbids US troops in Colombia from participating in any combat against rebels, except in cases of self-defense.  Caps the number of US troops allowed in Colombia at 800.
Bush's signing statement: Only the president, as commander in chief, can place restrictions on the use of US armed forces, so the executive branch will construe the law ''as advisory in nature."

Dec. 17: The new national intelligence director shall recruit and train women and minorities to be spies, analysts, and translators in order to ensure diversity in the intelligence community.
Bush's signing statement: The executive branch shall construe the law in a manner consistent with a constitutional clause guaranteeing ''equal protection" for all.  (In 2003, the Bush administration argued against race-conscious affirmative-action programs in a Supreme Court case.  The court rejected Bush's view [this is a clear case where the signing statement directly contravenes prior U.S. Supreme Court decisions].)

Oct. 29: Defense Department personnel are prohibited from interfering with the ability of military lawyers to give independent legal advice to their commanders.
Bush's signing statement: All military attorneys are bound to follow legal conclusions reached by the administration's lawyers in the Justice Department and the Pentagon when giving advice to their commanders.

Aug. 5: The military cannot add to its files any illegally gathered intelligence, including information obtained about Americans in violation of the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches.
Bush's signing statement: Only the president, as commander in chief, can tell the military whether or not it can use any specific piece of intelligence.

Nov. 6, 2003: US officials in Iraq cannot prevent an inspector general for the Coalition Provisional Authority from carrying out any investigation.  The inspector general must tell Congress if officials refuse to cooperate with his inquiries.
Bush's signing statement: The inspector general ''shall refrain" from investigating anything involving sensitive plans, intelligence, national security, or anything already being investigated by the Pentagon.  The inspector cannot tell Congress anything if the president decides that disclosing the information would impair foreign relations, national security, or executive branch operations.

Nov. 5, 2002: Creates an Institute of Education Sciences whose director may conduct and publish research ''without the approval of the secretary [of education] or any other office of the department."
Bush's signing statement: The president has the power to control the actions of all executive branch officials, so ''the director of the Institute of Education Sciences shall [be] subject to the supervision and direction of the secretary of education."
Bear in mind that we, as citizens, may not even be privy to whether or not a signing statement is being followed into enacting regulations, what the content of some signing statements are,  or indeed, if there is a signing statement at all to a particular law, because they would be pertaining to laws that that are, themselves, secret.  

As in the vast increase of the use of the FISA courts (where the courts were even consulted), this President has used the “prerogatives” of office more than any other, and in ways that seem to put political and economic ideology at a premium over the rights of the individual citizens.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

OK, So maybe I'm easily impressed...

Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., is escorted to a police vehicle by members of the Uniform Division of the Secret Service after his arrest during a demonstration outside the Sudanese Embassy in Washington. Associated Press photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais
... But it looks like Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA [3rd District]) will get my vote again when his name is on the ballot.

McGovern, along with four other members of the House (Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA); Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX); Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA); and Rep. John Olver (D-MA)) were arrested Friday (4/29/06) at a protest that blocked the entrance to the Sudanese embassy in Washington D.C.

According to the Boston Globe, the congressmen were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct after they and the protesters refused to disperse after being requested to do so by uniformed Secret Service agents.
''For us, this is a minor inconvenience," McGovern said at the police station after his release. ''But there is a genocide going on, and the world is watching it unfold. For us to spend a couple of hours in jail is nothing."

The lawmakers, along with three of their colleagues and several other activists, demanded that the Sudanese end the killings in Darfur, which has been the site of a brutal and bloody internal conflict since rebels challenged the Sudanese government in 2003. International agencies estimate that between 140,000 to 400,000 people have been killed and millions displaced in the conflict, which has spilled over to Chad.

''They are slaughtering people, families, entire villages," Olver said. ''What we are doing today is adding weight" to growing international demands for intervention in the troubled west Sudanese region, he said.
The SF Chronicle reports:
"If you're looking for lack of international morality, Darfur encompasses all aspects," Lantos said before his arrest. "Here we see the slaughter of innocent black women, children and men by a monstrous regime. ... I'm appalled by the relative lack of interest in most civilized countries. This is murder on a grand scale."

Lantos, 78, a 25-year veteran of the House, began calling for an international intervention in Sudan in the spring of 2004. The only Holocaust survivor ever to serve in Congress, Lantos has urged the Bush administration to take action. He led the debate in Congress to label the situation in Sudan a genocide in the summer of 2004, and soon after, the Bush administration declared it a genocide.

Yes, it's grandstanding.

And some might say it is ill-represented for "the dignity of the House."

But the arrest of 5 congressmen *will* get more media exposure of the issue, and afford a more wide ranging pulpit, than if 50 "ordinary citizens" are arrested for the same non-violent protest.

In a more serious tone, however, the images of 5 Democrat congresscritters being frisked, cuffed and put into patrol cars is so invigorating to the likes of the 101st Keyboard Brigade.

I mean, where can the Democrats look to for guidance?

Offending the dignity of the House this way doesn't hold a candle to the prospects of the House Speaker being censured for abuse of power or the Senate Majority Leader announcing a professional medical diagnosis about a patient he had never seen in the flesh.

And being booked for disorderly conduct while protesting against oppression, corruption and genocide isn't anywhere as impressive in your home district as being booked for wire fraud and money laundering or being under investigation by the SEC for insider trading.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Voice in The Wilderness

On Wednesday, April 22, 1970, I was still in high school, and played “hooky” from classes at my downtown Boston school to spend the day on the MIT campus in Cambridge, cheek-to-cheek with other high-schoolers, graduate students, undergrads, academics and the press.

It was the 1970 Environmental Teach-In, meant to be a one-shot expository day and turning into the first celebration of the non-equinoctial “Earth Day.”  *  A day of concentration on activities for sustaining the ecology of the planet, on how to preserve what resources were still available, and review how to minimize man’s impact on the balance of the remaining wilderness and planetary environment.

It was a time when some conservative political players (usually backed by pro-business and petro/mineral exploitation interests) tried to deny the existence of “ecology” as either a discipline of study or even validity as a word itself, even though the term had been coined (as oekologie) by Ernst von Haeckel in 1866 (von Haeckel was a Lamarckian zoologist who founded a philosophy called ‘Monism” and coined the (now) discredited axiom "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny").  It was also a time when most of the world’s general public was blissfully unaware of the intricate delicacy of the dance of interaction between participants and the environment’s underlying structures.

Jane Goodall and chimps, Vanne Morris-Goodall 19771970 also marked the 10-year anniversary of Jane Goodall’s first observations of chimpanzees in the Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania (when she arrived in 1960 the nation was called Tanganyika) and the year that the National Geographic Society reprinted their edition of My Friends the Wild Chimpanzees

In the years since, Earth Day in the U.S. enjoyed a period of official and public support, coupled with the enactment of legislation that recognized that economic considerations may need to be considered secondary to environmental considerations.  Since the dawn of the new century, however, the trend seems to have been reversed and 5 years of new legislation has been attempting to reverse 30 years of progress.  And the federal government’s support of “Earth Day” has been to prop up a sickly fa├žade, where Clinton-administration advances are presented in such a way as to imply that the progress was due to the G.W. Bush efforts, and support for such farces as the “Healthy Forests” and “Clean Skies” programs are presented as “Initiatives” that are beneficial to the ecology, when the “environment” that is really to benefit is the economic one of big-lobby industrial interests.

Conversely, Goodall went on to research and author papers on the Egyptian Vulture, African baboons and Spotted Hyenas, but always returned to the chimpanzees at Gombe.  She was able to capitalize on the popularity of her books, the weight of her accomplishments in primatology and her own presence as a speaker, to have some remarkable success in bringing attention to issues such as poaching of primates (for purposes as diverse as “bush meat,” slaughter for folk medicines or illegal transshipment to foreign zoos), destruction of habitat and the use of primates as subjects in medical experimentation.  

In order to provide a more organized presence for her initial efforts at habitat preservation, and to provide ongoing support for field research on wild chimpanzees, “Dr. Jane” founded the Jane Goodall Institute for Wildlife Research, Education and Conservation in 1977.  With her work at the Jane Goodall Institute, she is now “on the road” for about 300 days of each year.

Jane Goodall also formed a separate organization, in 1991, named “Roots and Shoots,” that “plans and implements service-learning projects that promote care and concern for animals, the environment, and the human community.”  Roots and Shoots started with 16 youngsters on the front porch of Dr. Goodall’s home in Dar es Salaam and now has more than 7,500 groups in more than 90 countries

In the 35 years since I skipped school on that Wednesday in 1970, I was involved with a number of environmental groups (some more effective than others), went on to college myself, fell away from the True Faith of the Environmental Front Lines, and have come full circle, back to wondering how I, as a single private citizen, can effect change, driven by the thought that my children, and grandchildren, may never see the world whole, or healthy.

My thought is that my best practice, aside from urging my elected representatives in voting against abominations such the “Clean Skies Initiative,” is education.  Educating my children and (perhaps through The Boston Progressive) educating the public.

Dr. Jane Goodall - image courtesy of Jane Goodall InstituteAs part of educating my children, I try to engage them with as much exposure to the "natural world" as I can, including such "captive nature" as zoos (even in the zoo you can show how the artificial setting differs from, and affects, the animals). I recently noticed that Jane Goodall would be making a speech, in commemoration of Earth Day, at Boston’s Franklin Park Zoo, (which is a regional coordinating host for the Roots and Shoots program) and we altered the date for an already planned visit to Franklin Park to cooincide with her visit and to see her speech.

We arrived at the zoo, on a chilly and grey day, close before opening time (when we pulled in, we were the only car in the visitor’s parking lot), and saw Dr. Goodall arrive on the grounds.  We had several hours yet before the scheduled date for her speech, so we “took the airs” and wandered the several areas of the zoo’s collection.  I’m naught but an occasional zoo visitor, so I really don’t know the relative worth of the Franklin Park Zoo’s collection or presentation, but, all the experience being new to them, both of my boys (aged 4 and 8) enjoyed themselves (my 4-year old son was absolutely captivated by the family of lowland gorillas).  I’d like to be able to say that the skies magically cleared and the temperature rose as it came time for Dr. Goodall’s speech, but the clouds stubbornly refused to disburse, and the wind even picked up.

When Dr. Goodall took to the podium, one saw a woman who is moving gracefully through age, and presents a kind of vulnerability that was present in films taken during her first years at Gombe.  Not a physical frailty or infirmity, but rather a feeling that she would never really credit that people could ever do or think anything but the best, if only they were shown what the truth was, and where the real world’s priorities should lie.

She told some anecdotes about her days at Gombe, and noted the very close genetic similarity between chimpanzees and homo sapiens (given a match in blood type, transfusion across strains are effective – which makes chimpanzees prime material for AIDS/HIV vector and progression research), and noted that economic factors are forcing native destruction of habitat and environment, and the outside world appears either oblivious or has determined not to attempt to work towards changing conditions.  She praised those who work with the Roots and Shoots programs, and noted a remarkable program that the new president in Tanzania was embarking on, that all plastic bags in that country would be removed from commerce, and that only paper and cloth would be used for bags from stores.

I’m afraid that, with an exhausted four-year sleeping on my shoulder, and my membership “in the choir,” I didn’t find the portions of her speech on ecology as electrifying as some in the audience did.  Interesting, thoughtful, but not, overall, remarkable.  What I did find more captivating were the anecdotes on her years at Gombe, and thoroughly startling was when she demonstrated some of the “language” and calls her chimpanzees used, including a change in timbre and power of her voice, from that of a relatively unassuming Englishwoman, when she articulated those calls, including a truly amazing exhibition of a “distance call” that I could readily image carrying across mountain valleys.

Although I did not find her presentation itself awe-inspiring, her power as a symbol in the world’s environmental awareness is unquestioned.  And the knowledge that this one woman has had the ability, through education of the world’s people, to bring real change to the policies of nations, is awe-inspiring.  

What was unquestionably sad, though, was that none of the local news outlets thought that her appearance was noteworthy enough to even send a film crew to, never mind do a broadcast about.

She appears to be, either still, or again, the prophetic voice crying in the wilderness.

* There is a “competing” Earth Day celebration internationally that is a movable feast, being celebrated each year during the vernal equinox.  There is a (perhaps) cynical observation that the timing of the original Earth Day in late April, 1970, was chosen because it fell between spring break and final exams allowed for more participation on U.S. college campuses

-- My own camera is currently dysfunctional -- the photograph of Goodall at the podium is courtesy of the Jane Goodall Institute

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

It's Super, Double-Secret...

When it may cost the agencies some monies, and the Prez doesn't want to get even, I guess you can't say anything.

The wife of a former covert CIA operative is suing the federal government for claims of conduct that caused the woman and her family physical and mental suffering.

Because the government has ordered that neither the woman nor her husband can reveal to their caregivers what is causing the anxiety, and the government has not afforded them alternatives, the family is suing for unspecified damages. From the AP story:

The U.S. District Court lawsuit by the mother and three children asserts that they were victims of unlawful conduct, breaches of contract and broken promises by the CIA after the family suffered enormous strain living a “very, very covert life,” said plaintiff attorney Mark S. Zaid.

The family was not identified because the CIA has continued to label their relationship with the CIA as classified, Zaid said.

Defendants in the case are the CIA, the United States and an agency whose name is classified.

In the largely redacted lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, the wife reports that she “remains a virtual prisoner in her home” and is “constantly fearful of eventual detection” for a reason that is classified.
Federal lawyers claim that they should not have to reveal anything about the man's relationship for "national security" reasons, and that the lawsuit not be allowed to go forward.
In arguing that the lawsuit be rejected, [Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah S.] Normand cited a submission last month by CIA Director Porter Goss, who said state secrets would be divulged that could jeopardize national security if the lawsuit proceeded.

He said it needed to be so secret that the reasons for his assertion of the state secrets privilege cannot be released even to the plaintiffs or their lawyer.
To me this smells just like the case that set the precedent that allows the Federal government to block revelation of material facts -- and I remember that in that case, involving a military aircraft that crashed with civilian contractors aboard, the real reason for the government asserting "national security" was in order to hide incompetence and negligence on the part of the military, not to protect the nation.

It's All The Fault of Clinton! Uhh Zarqawi!

First we have right-wingnuts claiming that the retired generals who are calling for a different hand at the helm in Iraq is all Clinton's fault, but now Rummy himself is claiming that the "terrorists" are the reason that Mainstream Media reporters are declining being embedded -- that somehow Zarqawi and bin Laden have made the reporters stop.

Secty of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
Radio personality Rush LimbaughEditor and Publisher has noted that that is exactly what Rumsfeld said during an "interview" on Rush Limbaugh's talk radio show. From the E&P story:
For one thing, Rumsfeld said it was important to "recognize that the terrorists, Zarqawi and bin Laden and Zawahiri, those people have media committees. They are actively out there trying to manipulate the press in the United States. They are very good at it. They're much better at (laughing) managing those kinds of things than we are."
LIMBAUGH: Let me amend it. Let me ask you one final question. Somebody on my staff is curious to know what your opinion is of embedding reporters with the military. Has that worked? Has that worked as you had hoped?

SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well, it has. It worked during the Iraq conflict, and a lot of people who are reporters and journalists were able to work with our troops and see precisely how terrific they are, the wonderful job they do, the kinds of people they are, how professional they are -- and the rest of their lives they're going to have an impression of the American military that will be good for journalism, in my view. Furthermore, they were able, because they were embedded, to see and then give the world and the people of the United States a slice of what was actually happening, real reality, and it was a good thing. More recently, very few people had been being embedded. We're still offering that opportunity, but there have been far fewer journalists who have stepped up to become embedded.

LIMBAUGH: Why do you think that is?

SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well, it's a funny thing. I asked one reporter about that, and there was kind of the impression left that, "Well, if you got embedded then you were really part of the problem instead of part of the solution and you were almost going over to the other side," argument. I think that's an inexcusable thought, and I don't know if that's the case.

LIMBAUGH: That's outrageous.

SECRETARY RUMSFELD: It is. (Laughing.)

RUSH: I can't believe that.

The reaction of the reporters simply couldn't have anything to do with the feeling that they are not getting the "real" story when they are only going around with heavily armed troops or stuck in the green zone.

And, of course, Rush is not going to ask any questions that are off-script. I wonder what it feels like to know that you are a pet kept on the lease by your masters the way Limbaugh is -- so tame that Rumsfeld and Cheney can feel secure that only the approved questions will be asked during the "candid interviews."

Enjoy the access, now, Rush -- you won't have the entree into the famous and influential forever, and then it will be back to pandering only to the ditto-heads.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

O brave new world, That has such people in't!

Operation Ivy's shot King, a weapons related air-drop on Enewetak on 11/15/52.
With the recent New Yorker article pointing out the possibility of G.W. releasing nukes over Iran, I cannot but think back to the days of “duck and cover,” before planners realized (admitted?) that there was no such critter as a “limited nuclear exchange.”

Of course, with the assurances of G.W. that he Is Doing All He Can For A Peaceful Solution, I think the film clip that I’ve linked to here is quite appropriate a reminder about what may be involved, even when you are looking at capabilities from 5 decades ago.

This is a 41-second excerpt of a 30 minute film available at the website for the DOE’s Nevada Test Site, showcasing events with such unassuming catalog titles as Fox, Nancy, Badger, Encore and Climax.

Even though the film catalog description declares this to be “silent,” there actually is a disturbingly appropriate soundtrack.

Photo courtesy of National Nuclear Security Administration / Nevada Site Office.

O brave new world, That has such people in't! (The Tempest, Act 5, scene 1)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

I'd Like to Welcome...

'Peace Dove and Cross' by Glass Rainbow, Annapolis, MD
... Straight, Not Narrow to the blogroll link-list.

Written by Jim Johnson of Rockville, MD, Straight Not Narrow is focused on "Advocating for GLBT equality in the church and politics," and is member of the Progressive Christian Blogger Network.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

"Get It Out"

President George W. Bush

USNews.Com 'Lawyer: Bush Left Leak Details to Cheney'
"...Bush merely instructed Cheney to "get it out" and left the details to him, said the lawyer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case for the White House..."

Isaiah 32: 6-7
6. For a fool speaks nonsense,
And his heart inclines toward wickedness:
To practice ungodliness and to speak error against the LORD,
To keep the hungry person unsatisfied
And to withhold drink from the thirsty.

7. As for a rogue, his weapons are evil;
He devises wicked schemes
To destroy the afflicted with slander,
Even though the needy one speaks what is right.

Friday, April 07, 2006

The Pain and the Glory of Public School

Over on Creek Running North Chris Clark has penned an article about how he is trying to cope with the distress that his wife copes with when every day in her professional life she is pushing Sisyphus’ damn rock to the top of that hill.  

What did she do to earn the ire of the gods of the underworld?  

Becky is a teacher in the public school system, and the stand-ins for Hades are anti-intellectuals who care naught about any but their own spawn and opportunists who don’t have to care about the demise of public schools because their children are in private schools with small class sizes and all their peers are formed with the same cookie-cutter.  

She didn’t do anything to earn that boulder, but her mischoice in agreeing to this task is offense enough to some.

As Chris so correctly puts it:
Public school teachers make up the largest, most accessible sector of the United States’ intellectual class.

They are the cannon fodder in the War on Thinking.

Public school teachers are the largest constituency that represents a government-funded social program.

They are the cannon fodder in the War to Starve Government.
Part of Becky’s frustration is the constant fight for materials for use in the classroom, and the ill-conceived notion that standardized norms are the only way to teach anything, and penalize the schools if the luck of the neighborhood draw means that a higher proportion of  students in one school, over a school in another address, are from families with parents absent because they work two or three jobs, or the children are from homes where there is not the wherewithal to afford a breakfast before school each day, or English is a 2nd or 3rd tongue, or any other of a host of circumstance.

Chris also notes that, the actual result of the flight of educational dollars away from “non-performing schools” is to realize in effect what Edward Stanly, military Governor of N. Carolina during part of the Civil War, tried to achieve when he sought to enforce slave-holder laws against teaching blacks to read and write when he closed the schools that were instructing former slaves towards literacy.

Looking through the comments for that article, I saw a number of supportive writers for Chris’ efforts to support his wife, but then the inevitable flies in the ointment whenever public education is discussed – the voucherist hawking “choice” and the lackwit so ready to repeat Mencken’s absurd saw about “those who can, do and those who can’t, teach.”

What the voucher supporter will do is provide a grant to those who can already afford the choice (and in the next breath those same voucherists will usually decry the money spent on subsidized school lunches as "unneeded welfare")

When the child is pulled from the school it isn't just the voucher amount that is withdrawn, it is the money that is no longer there to teach the children who don't have the choice to be on-offer.

The children whose parents don't have the car to get them to the other school.

Or who don't have the time in the day because of the work schedule to get them to that other school.

Or who don't have the money to make up the tuition at that other school beyond the cost of the voucher.

Or they are the student that the other school doesn't want to take:  the whirl-a-gig all day long without a one-on-one aide; or those so challenged that they cannot deal with schoolwork except at a grade level 3 or 4 behind their age peers; or are simply physically broken and need crutches or wheelchairs; or are trying to cope with the mental, emotional or physical scars of malnutrition, physical or emotional abuse or are so lonely that any attention given is reacted to as "inappropriate."

The fancy school doesn't want these kids because accommodating them will lower their pristine scores, and private schools (so far) don't have to take them.

And as for the moronic comment about "those who can't, teach," one truly wonders if the repeater of the saw ever attempted teaching.

Like the saying about the chicken and the egg, if those who can "do," how did they *learn" the skills to "do?"

Did those skills come full-blown into their existence, imparted by some relative of Narcissus?

No, seeing the effort that the public school teachers take for granted in their professional lives, and the compassion and grace that they bestow on their charges' behalf, I'm just surprised as the Devil that there are any of them who last long enough in the system before fleeing in abject terror.

I know I could never persist at that task for any period of time.  And my prayers go to those, like Becky, who do.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Tri-x and Dektol.

Kodak Dektol developerOver on the Heretik we are reminded that the advent of CCD sensors and image-formulation algorithms have brokered a new world in image creation, and that there is a danger that, in the not too distant future, "photograph" will, in the common mind, conjure bits, pixels and monitor screens, not grain, gelatin and paper.

I haven't worked professionally in photography in more than 25 years.

For me, the love of the image was always in shades of grey and sepia, where I had control over the genesis, and did not have to relegate gestation to darkness and baths that needed to be controlled within 5 degrees of temperature.

When the market for portraits of ordinary people went to houses that did sittings in standard poses and all the image taker did was point a box and let an autowinder collect the potential image (In Bright! Honest! True! Color!) and machines imaged paper I gave it up.

Partly from frustration, and partly because, simply, the salary I could make as a computer geek was so much steadier (and bigger) than commissions from sittings, and studio owners who were so desperate to keep their salons open they cheated the craftsmen taking pictures and printing.

Soon after that I realized a love in my life might be slipping away, when I found it harder and harder to get B&W films in a casual market, rather than having to go to a camera store, and the prices posted for processing and printing of B&W outstripping the cost for standard processing of color. It made economic sense, as the deluge of standardized processing for all the major makers' color negative films, the improvements in masking to give "truer color" and the advent of good (not "great," but "good") plastic optics on inexpensive plastic cameras meant that the "economies of scale" made the commercial consumerism of color a Goliath that laughed at the grey-scaled David's sling, and brushed the stones from that sling away.

I was living in small apartments, and tutored in photography classes in exchange for darkroom time and chemistry. But I never was happy teaching color work, and that was what the majority wanted to learn. So I let it slip away, and just did family pictures and trip mementos, in color, and let machines do the realization of the latent image onto negative and paper.

I never had the patience to really work with color until I started using a digital camera. I still really don't do much except for playing with color balance and some tonal range before I tell the inkjet to fire its little droplets of dye, and it doesn't feel the same.photographic enlarger

But Black & White, ohh, in that fargone realm of past eons I would spend days in that safe-lit room, creating image after image after image.
I never really liked using gels or other artifacts during printing, using focus, exposure and the occasional "specialty" paper to bend light to my will.

I can remember one image, of a lady "of a certain age" who had such a marvelously youthful mien that was lost completely if I printed the image as taken. Eventually I used my loup to focus the sharpest I could on the film grain, and then backed-off the focus just so, and underexposed the paper just that little gradient to appease that faction of "art," and found the face that my eye had seen, and the film had hidden.

I really don't think I ever would have found the craft to be able to tease that rendering from a color negative, nor justify the cost of the missed efforts along the way.

At some point I'll actually commandeer a room in the house, box it so the dark can't escape, get an enlarger and rekindle that lust for tonal range and grey scale. But not yet.

Tri-x was a fairly sensitive (ASA 400) black and white negative film marketed to general consumers

Dektol is a chemical formulation that can be used to develop (process) both film and photographic paper

Who Is Paying For Whose Freedom?

The Unites States is involved in an armed conflict in Iraq.

Whether you call it an “illegal war,” “bringing democracy to the Middle East” or “the front line of the War on Terror” it’s an armed conflict.

As in any armed conflict there are three groups involved, and each group has a portion that are injured or killed by the conflict. The groups involved are the respective combatants, and everybody else caught in the middle.

In “insurgencies” or other guerilla wars it is hard, or impossible, to reliably separate the combatants in the non-uniformed forces from the mass of the “caught betweens.” It is even harder to separate the casualties.

It is harder still to examine what the “fortunes of war” have wrought if the civilians and non-uniformed combatants are not counted, either because it is too difficult to count and estimate or because it is a matter of policy to not count, or to purposely underestimate the numbers.

Last week some students at The College of the Holy Cross, in Worcester (Massachusetts) decided to try to bring a graphic reminder of the costs, in lives, of the “insurgency” in Iraq, and hopefully start a dialog about what is being bought with the lives of the combatants involved and the people caught in between.

College of The Holy Cross students Sarah Fontaine (left) and Molly Haglund, who helped create the installation on the Iraq war, passed through the vandalized display yesterday. (Suzanne Kreiter/ Boston Globe Staff photo)With the permission of the College’s administration, and a warning from that same administration that vandalism might be possible, last Thursday (03/31/06) two sophomores at the College, Sarah Fontaine of Somers, CT and Molly Hoagland of Portland, OR (both seen in the photo at left) organized an “installation” of 1026 stakes, some painted green, some white, placed into the earth in the quadrangle outside the main dining hall. Each stake is meant to represent 100 deaths in the war in Iraq.

A white stake represents 100 American casualties; a green stake represents 100 Iraqi casualties. 26 of the stakes are white. The remainder are green.

A stark and graphic reminder of the costs to the people of Iraq of the present conflict.

The two students conceived of the installation as a way to start a more open discussion over the personal cost of the war among the 2700 students at the College.

However, sometime over Friday night the stakes representing the Iraqi dead were pulled up out of the ground and strewn about the quad, and the signs explaining what the stakes represented were destroyed, and in their place a Unites States flag was draped over a fence and a sign was posted saying “Freedom is not free.”

Rather than re-erect the green stakes, the organizers instead opted to pull out the white stakes and mingle them with the scattered green, an installation that is as effective as when they were all in neat rows. The contrast of the white separated from the green will not be as stark, but the symbolism of the commingled fallen is very powerful.

To my own mind, two of the more striking thoughts to come from the vandalism are that there are those who feel the U.S. dead are a priori more important than the Iraqis who have died, and the question of who is paying the price for whose “freedom.”

If those who vandalized this installation truly *do* think that the U.S. lives are more important than the Iraqis, then why do they support our troops being there at all, and why are we, as a nation, paying the blood price of our own dead for those who are not as “worthy?”

The more general questions of disrespect for independent thought, and the cowardice of those who would do this under the cover of darkness, I leave to the reader.

However, the installation, and the vandalism, have been effective at stimulating the desired dialog within the student body, and the reaction to the vandalism may be even more of an impetus for that discussion than the installation on its own.

Coverage of the vandalism by the Boston Globe is here, coverage by the Worcester Telegram & Gazette is here.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Now they want to swiftboat hostages who get released?

Jill Carroll (seen here in a frame from a video recorded in February, while she was still a hostage) was released Friday, after 82 days in captivity by an Islamic fundamentalist group in Iraq.

Carroll, an unembedded reporter with the Christian Science Monitor, on assignment in Iraq, was kidnapped on Jan 7, 2006, and her interpreter, Allan Enwiya was murdered. Since that time she had been held captive, had all parts of her life and circumstances controlled by her kidnappers.

Before her release there were some video footage made, where she made statements lambasting the US and its forces, and praising the insurgency in Iraq.

Every time I saw some new footage of Carroll I didn't really believe that she was still alive, but that earlier footage had been shot, and was just now being released for broadcast.

Now she really *has* been released, and there are some who call themselves "conservatives" (not all, some, but a large and vocal number of "some") who are crucifying her for making those statements at all.

Unlike her, they have not been subject to being kidnapped, seeing someone you work with every day murdered because of their association with you, and told that your life hinges on your total cooperation with those who have kidnapped you.

And she knew that reporters have been killed by their kidnappers in the past. One of whom, Daniel Pearl, was working for the Monitor when he was kidnapped and murdered in 2002. So the possibility of her own murder was a prospect that had a demonstrated precedent.

Yet there are "voices" on the Right who can't even wait for the videotape replay to stop winding down before they are lighting into her and treating her as a traitor, or willing collaborator or coward.

Part of the subtext on this is that those "voices" on the right don't want to admit that statements made under duress might be less than truthful, and are simply reiterations of what a captor might want them to say. For, to admit that statements made under duress were inherently unreliable, they might have to admit that statements made under "strenuous interrogation" of suspected "enemy combatants" would be suspect. And that would mean that their Crawford demighod was in favor of a course of action that was not entirely reliable. And we cannot have that.

The Moderate Voice's Joe Gandleman has a roundup of some of these "voices," including some on the conservative side who are *not* of the opinion that Carroll is a traitor, but someone who was just trying to stay alive. But the other rhetoric that being broadcast is jaw-dropping in its poison. I suspect that this is a subject where Joe may be working overtime to stay as even-handed as he can, because of his background of being a U.S. journalist on assignment abroad. Crooks and Liars is not being so generous.

The Christian Science Monitor has a story about Carroll's renunciation of the recordings, but I doubt that it will do anything to moderate those who want to vilify her.

The Monitor thinks that these events are important enough that they are allowing the general public to download the entire contents of the March 31 edition of the paper, as a PDF file. See this page for the download.